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Red Hill Tunnel South Portals (West SPC6 28 and East SPC6 28a)

A Grade II Listed Building in Ratcliffe on Soar, Nottinghamshire

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Latitude: 52.8708 / 52°52'14"N

Longitude: -1.2646 / 1°15'52"W

OS Eastings: 449597

OS Northings: 330621

OS Grid: SK495306

Mapcode National: GBR 7H7.528

Mapcode Global: WHDH9.K30J

Entry Name: Red Hill Tunnel South Portals (West SPC6 28 and East SPC6 28a)

Listing Date: 11 February 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1417715

Location: Ratcliffe on Soar, Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire, NG11

County: Nottinghamshire

District: Rushcliffe

Civil Parish: Ratcliffe on Soar

Traditional County: Nottinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Ratcliffe-on-Soar

Church of England Diocese: Southwell and Nottingham

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Two portals forming the southern entrance of Red Hill Tunnel, the west portal built 1838-40 for the Midland Counties Railway to the designs of Charles Vignoles, and the east portal built 1892-93 for the Midland Railway probably to the designs of J. A. MacDonald.


Two portals forming the southern entrance of Red Hill Tunnel, the west portal built 1838-40 for the Midland Counties Railway to the designs of Charles Vignoles, and the east portal built 1892-93 for the Midland Railway probably to the designs of J. A. MacDonald.

MATERIALS: the west portal is faced in coursed quarry-faced sandstone with ashlar dressings, and the east portal is constructed of blue engineering brick laid in English bond with ashlar dressings.

EXTERIOR: the west portal is situated at the end of a steep earth cutting, and is expressed architecturally as a classical frame applied to a retaining wall of coursed quarry-faced stone. The semi-circular arch has ashlar voussoirs that return as quoins on the soffit of the tunnel. The arch springs from a moulded impost band which extends across the abutments to form the cornice of flanking pedestals. These support pilasters with plain, squared capitals, which have a picked dressing with tooled margins. Above is a square-profiled string course with the same dressings which forms the architrave of an entablature. The frieze consists of three courses of quarry-faced stone and the cornice has a cyma reversa moulding. This is surmounted by a low, recessed ashlar parapet.

The east portal has a horseshoe arch with four courses of headers stepped in two parts and an outer stone roll moulding. The innermost course of bricks is also rounded as it returns to the soffit. The arch is flanked by two pairs of broad raked piers, the outer piers terminating the wing walls, where they meet the rising sides of the cutting. The portal has a bold ashlar stone roll moulding and a parapet consisting of a single course of ashlar stone.


The Midland Main Line is the outcome of a number of historic construction phases undertaken by different railway companies. The first two phases were carried out simultaneously between 1836 and 1840 by the North Midland Railway and the Midland Counties Railway. The North Midland Railway, which operated between Derby and Chesterfield and onwards to Rotherham and Leeds, was pre-eminently the work of George (1781-1848) and Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) who, along with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, are the most renowned engineers of this pioneering phase of railway development. They worked closely with the Assistant Engineer, Frederick Swanwick (1810-1885). The railway’s architect Francis Thompson (1808-1895) designed stations and other railway buildings along the line. The less demanding route for the Midland Counties Railway, which ran between Derby and Nottingham to Leicester and on to Rugby, was surveyed by Charles Blacker Vignoles (1793-1875) who was engineer to a large number of railway projects. These two companies (along with the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway) did not yield the expected profits, partly because of the fierce competition between them. This led to the three companies merging into the Midland Railway in 1844 which constituted the first large scale railway amalgamation. The next part of the line from Leicester to Bedford and on to Hitchin was constructed between 1853 and 1857 by the engineer Charles Liddell (c.1813-1894) and specialist railway architect Charles Henry Driver (1832-1900). In 1862 the decision was made to extend the line from Bedford to London which was again the responsibility of Liddell, except for the final fourteen miles into London and the design of the terminus at St Pancras (listed at Grade I) which was undertaken by William Barlow (1812-1902). Additional routes were then added from Chesterfield to Sheffield in 1870, and from Kettering to Corby in 1879. The most important changes to the infrastructure of the Midland Railway were the rebuilding of its principal stations and the increasing of the line’s capacity, involving the quadrupling of some stretches of the route south of the Trent from the early 1870s to the 1890s.

Red Hill Tunnel was built as part of the Midland Counties Railway. The line connecting Derby and Nottingham to Leicester and Rugby originated in a proposal to supply Leicester with coal from the Nottinghamshire coalfield but it was extended to Rugby in order to become a major component in the strategy to link London to the North. The routes were surveyed by Charles Vignoles in 1835 and an Act of Parliament for the construction of the line was obtained in 1836. The sixty mile line was opened in three stages between 1839 and 1840. Built largely across the Trent, Derwent and Soar valleys, the engineering of this line was in most respects less demanding than the North Midland. At Derby the company shared a station provided by the North Midland but built its own principal stations at Nottingham and Leicester together with an increasing number of intermediate stations. The character of the line owes almost as much however to the alterations that were made over the next thirty-five years. The modernisations carried out by the General Manager James Allport and his successors were crucial to securing the reputation of the Midland Railway. Extra capacity was needed because of the huge expansion of the company’s coal traffic to London. The procession of slow-moving coal trains from the East Midland and Yorkshire coalfields created havoc in the punctuality of passenger services and the only solution was to segregate them on several tracks. This was achieved by means of a complex series of projects, requiring in some places the quadrupling of the tracks and in others the construction of entirely separate relief lines.

Red Hill Tunnel was designed by Charles Vignoles and constructed by William Mackenzie under Contract no. 3, dated 23 June 1838. The 130-yard long tunnel was completed by the opening of the line in May 1840. The surviving contract drawings show classical designs for both the north and south portals, neither of which was executed. The decision (recorded in minute books on 30 July 1838) to adopt a grand castellated Gothic structure for the Grade II listed north portal was probably taken because of its public aspect facing the River Trent and Vignoles’ iron viaduct. By contrast, the south portal (of the west tunnel) is largely obscured in a deep cutting and for this a modified classical scheme was executed. The east tunnel dates to 1892-93 when the line from Red Hill Tunnel to Trent Junction was quadrupled by the Midland Railway’s engineer J. A. MacDonald. Whereas the Grade II listed 1890s north portal of the east tunnel copies the Gothic style of the original, the new south portal is a simpler, classically-derived composition in engineering brick. Neither the east nor the west portal appears to have been altered since construction.

Reasons for Listing

The west and east, south portals of the Red Hill Tunnel, constructed in 1838-40 and 1892-3, respectively, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the west portal has a quiet classical composition, delicately defined by pilasters and an entablature. It demonstrates a high standard of design and masonry detailing resulting in an aesthetic quality that far exceeds its functional and structural requirements. Whilst the east portal is less refined, its construction in engineering brick demonstrates the important development in the use of building materials along the line;
* Historic interest: they form part of a series of railway structures along the line of the Midland Counties Railway designed by Charles Blacker Vignoles between 1837 and 1840, and later widened by J. A. McDonald, the Midland Railway’s chief engineer. The portals are important examples of both the pioneering phase of railway development in England and its subsequent evolution;
* Group value: the portals at each end of a tunnel form an architectural and engineering entity. The south portals have strong group value with the listed north portals which are seen in combination with one another as elements of a railway transport landscape of great interest and quality.

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